USC football hasn’t had two 1,000-yard rushers since Reggie Bush and Lendale White in 2005. Could Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis be the duo to complete the feat again?
Can Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis become the first pair of 1,000-yard rushers for USC football since Reggie Bush and Lendale White?
Count on it.
Jones and Davis are primed to lead the Trojan offense in 2016 after taking hold of the reins in 2015 to the tune of 1,889 yards combined.
Neither broke the 1,000-yard threshold last year but they came close. After breaking Charles White’s freshman rushing record, Jones needed just 13 yards to reach 1,000. Davis was 98 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.
If both remain healthy, expecting 1,000 yards from each is far from a stretch.
First-year head coach Clay Helton set the tone for his offense during his time as the interim. Under his direction for most of the season, the Trojan offense had two running backs total more than 150 carries each for the first time since Bush and White in 2005.
Back when Bush and White ran rampant, the two were given an even greater share of touches — Bush had 200 carries while White totaled 197.
Jones had 153 carries as a freshman. Davis accounted for 169 of USC’s rushes.
If it is safe to assume that USC will run the ball at least as often as they did in 2015, the Trojans should have extra touches to distribute with the loss of Tre Madden, who had 85 carries during his injury-plagued senior season.
Aca’Cedric Ware is being primed to take Madden’s place as a physical presence in the USC backfield after a strong spring camp, but his access to the ball will surely be limited behind the explosive Jones and reliable Davis.
If the two maintain their yards per rush average from last year, they would need just a few extra touches to exceed the 1,000 yard threshold. Specifically, Jones would need three more carries to cover 13 yards at 6.45 yards per carry. Davis, who missed the Arkansas State game last year, would need about 18 carries rushing at 5.34 yards a clip.
Of course, there are hurdles to clear.
USC won the Pac-12 South and played in an extra game as a result. Still, the Trojans had just three more carries in 2015 as they did in 2014, when they played one less game.
Despite a particularly difficult schedule, the Trojans remain one of the favorites to get back to the Pac-12 Championship game as well, with their toughest challenges coming from the Pac-12 North and out of conference foes.
With or without the extra game, the Trojans should field an offense capable of including two 1,000 yard rushers.
Helton has insisted that the USC offense will focus on the running game, though balance will always be part of the equation.
With the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster and a Trojan wide receiving corps as deep as it is talented, the fact that USC will be starting a first year quarterback shouldn’t hinder the air attack. Still, allowing either Max Browne or Sam Darnold time to settle in should supply both Jones and Davis more involvement at the start of the season than either enjoyed in 2015.
Consider the example of Buck Allen in 2013. After seeing hardly any action in the first half of the season, Allen emerged as the Trojans’ MVP in the final six games and carried his strong form over into 2014 when he rushed for 1,489 yards.
Both Davis and Jones could follow a similar trajectory. Davis averaged just 5.8 carries per game during USC’s first six contests. His average exploded to 16.7 carries for the final eight games. Meanwhile, Jones saw his average carries increase from 7.3 in the first six to 13.6 in the final eight.
In terms of production, Davis’ average of 84 yards per game in the final eight games of 2015 played out over a 14 games season would yield a 1,000-yard season.
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For Jones, a conservative estimation that he will continue his 75 yard per game average from that stretch would also seal 1,000 yards for his sophomore season. Since he was still learning the intricacies of his position in Year One, most would expect him to accomplish even more in 2016.
Though a breakout season for Jones may hinder Davis’ ability to keep up his production, the senior is still considered USC’s most reliable, all-around option at running back and should remain a featured part of the offense either way.
Past results don’t always predict future outcomes — the Trojans might have expected a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in 2014 with Allen and Madden set to return before injury trouble scuppered that plan. Still, this pair has proven that 1,000 yard seasons are well within their reach.